A few random thoughts about the Courier-Journal’s coverage of University of Louisville issues …
In case you missed it, Joe Gerth has a new column in the Courier-Journal, switching from political to a generalist approach, taking on the hot topics in town. He’s working hard in his new role as the newspaper’s “resident expert” on everything Louisville.
Not surprising a few weeks ago he became the latest CJ scribe to pile on former University of Louisville President Jim Ramsey, stating that Ramsey “enriched himself at the expense of the students at UofL and the state of Kentucky.” He also questions the motivations of Tom Jurich in the same piece.
Gerth grew up in Louisville and graduated from the University of Louisville, majoring in communications. For someone who has covered politics for almost three decades, it is somewhat surprising that he has failed to acknowledge issues stemming from gubernatorial political appointments to the UofL Board of Trustees.
Or maybe it’s just that he chooses to ignore them. That would be the easier path for a writer at a publication that fancies itself to be a statewide newspaper. The CJ’s News side provides tons of coverage on UofL problems but only a bare minimum, usually wire coverage, on University of Kentucky issues — totally opposite to Sports coverage where equal coverage seems the goal.
Nor is it surprising that David Hawpe, a former managing editor at the CJ, would wind up as a member of UK’s board of trustees. He made no secret of his loyalty while he was at Fifth and Broadway, and the newspaper reflected the bias.
As with most CJ writers, Gerth ignores the growth of the University and the Athletic Department over the past two decades. The reputations of the individuals are of little concern, with Gerth predictably providing a laundry list of Ramsey’s generous bonuses to top assistants.
No one has accused Ramsey of doing anything illegal but Gerth leaves readers with the impression that a forensic audit of the UofL Foundation will likely expose criminal wrong-doing.
Objective observers would have to acknowledge that Ramsey was a forceful advocate on behalf of the University. He broke the mode for UofL presidents, using creative and innovative approaches. He was aggressive, cutting through red tape and bureaucracy to get things done. Admirable qualities as far as many UofL backers are concerned.
Campus branding, for example, was in dire need when Ramsey arrived in 2001. Over the years, Ramsey and his wife, Jane, did much to beautify Belknap Campus. Part of that included putting the UofL brand on bridges and streets surrounding the campus. Rather than going through Metro or State government to get permission, the word was clean up and apply the UofL brand to thoroughfares surrounding the campus.
Small in the overall scheme of things but significant in enhancing first impressions of the campus, especially when combined with everything that came later — including a major upgrade to the main entrance and the addition of two other entrances north and east of the campus — and unprecedented construction of student housing.
Ramsey, in fact, was so proficient in so many areas of governance that he was given almost free rein by both the UofL board of trustees and the UofL Foundation’s board of directors. It was a process that worked wonders for the University until Steve Beshear became Governor, appointing board members who seemed intent on containing UofL’s growth. While his independence would reap tremendous benefits for the University, it would ultimately work against Ramsey personally.
Audits being audits, there were going to be problems, major problems, especially when initiated by a State Auditor who had received significant campaign contributions from families of a couple of UofL board members who requested the audit.
Finally, Gerth seems intent on making Tom Jurich a culprit for negotiating an advantageous lease for the KFC Yum! Center — despite Jurich giving up on his dream of developing an on-campus arena. When questioned by a reader about UofL signing the deal that was negotiated in good faith and presented to them, Gerth responds, “It was a bad deal but UofL isn’t a private business – it’s a part of the government. As such, it has a duty to taxpayers to make this thing work to the benefit of the community.”
Whether UofL is part of the government is debatable even if it does receive public funds. Arguably, the best deal for everyone involved, especially the taxpayers, would have been to have built a new arena on campus. Easy for second-guessers at the CJ to paint UofL as the bad guy in the deal 10 years later.
Gerth also makes a lame attempt to cast a bad light on Jurich for receiving a deferred compensation bonus of $6 million if he stayed at UofL until he was 70 years old. Gerth apparently believes that is excessive.
We don’t know if Joe Gerth is a University of Louisville fan, or even if he’s a sports fan. But he obviously doesn’t know that Tom Jurich is considered one of the best athletic directors in the nation, receiving many overtures over the years from other universities. “I don’t even bother to read the letters anymore,” Jurich has said on more than one occasion.
Whether he has remained at UofL because of the bonus or because he loves the University and this community is irrelevant. He has increased the UofL athletic budget tenfold, along with continued improvements in athletic facilities, fan loyalty and attendance, and overall revenue.
That seems to be beyond comprehension on the News side at the Courier-Journal. Ramsey understood perfectly, however, and he took action to ensure that Tom Jurich would be content. Fortunately, the misguided efforts of local media to focus attention on Jurich has generated little, if any, response from the community.
Makes sense that Ramsey was told to do “whatever was necessary to keep Tom Jurich at Louisville,” according to Bob Hughes, former chairman of the UofL board of trustees and the Foundation. The growth and recognition of the UofL athletic program under Jurich’s leadership is unprecedented in college sports.
UofL is a very different university that the one from which Gerth graduated in 1988. But the mindset of the local newspaper has changed very little over that extended period of time.